Doug Mastriano not planning to run from midfield

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When Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano was declared the winner of Tuesday night’s Republican gubernatorial contest, he gave the usual speech to mark the occasion. And in that speech, he made it very clear that his approach to the general election would not be to swerve to the political center.

“So our number one goal is, first, to restore freedom, right?” Mastriano said as he began to outline what he plans to do if he takes office in 2023. ‘So on day one, all the terms are gone’ – that is, all the terms for coronavirus vaccines or mask wearing.

He then talked about other Day 1 priorities: ending vaccine requirements for jobs, including state jobs. Implement “school transparency,” a reference to the recently popular conservative emphasis aimed at giving parents more say in what is taught in schools. And then he went further: On day one, “CRT” was gone – that is, “critical race theory,” again a reference to a popular right-wing discussion topic. And, of course, he would devote his attention to things like making sure “only biological women can play on biological women’s teams” and that “you can only use the bathroom according to your biological anatomy.”

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What Mastriano promised in his first comments as the Republican candidate for the leadership of Pennsylvania, in other words, was a phalanx of right-wing sores. Traditionally, candidates who had fought off an intra-party challenge would turn their attention to the general election with an emphasis on what might appeal to the broader electorate. But that tradition was shattered by Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a campaign in which Trump ran hard right to win the nomination…then ran hard right in the general in hopes of winning. to get members of the apathetic right to run in the polls. It worked in enough places to make him president.

So we see Mastriano assuring the rightmost part of Pennsylvania (one of the places where Trump’s pitch in 2016 was just successful enough) that he will follow the same path. He will run for governor the same way Governor Ron DeSantis (R) is running for re-election in Florida: by echoing what the conservative media is talking about and fighting for Pennsylvanians not against economic challenges shared, but against the left and its perceived allies.

Again, this is not how election campaigns often go. In Virginia, where Republicans won a surprise victory in last year’s gubernatorial race, Glenn Youngkin was cautious about how he appealed to the more right-wing segment of voters. He made his policy clear, but he didn’t delve into it out of obvious concern to alienate moderate and swing voters. It worked.

There are two good reasons why Mastriano has always had little chance of going down this path.

The first is that Pennsylvania is far less Democratic than Virginia. In 2020, Virginia backed Joe Biden by a 10-point margin from his one-point victory in Keystone State. In other words, Youngkin had be more cautious of moderate and swing voters.

The other factor for Mastriano, however, is that he couldn’t escape association with the right-most part of the GOP if he tried. He was a guy, after all, who was on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, having spent weeks as a lawmaker trying to overturn Biden’s victory in his state. Mastriano has been explicit in his efforts to steal Pennsylvania from Trump, and it was a central part of the discussion surrounding his candidacy. And in the Republican primary, it didn’t hurt; that could very well have helped.

The question then is whether sticking to the far right of state politics will propel him to the governor’s mansion.

Most observers expect the November election to favor Republican candidates. There are many reasons for this, including historical trends for a new president’s first midterm election, Biden’s unpopularity, and generic polls. This is likely to be an election in which a Republican candidate who in another election year runs even with his opponent should probably be considered to have an advantage. In other words, an election in which the voters who need convincing are less important to the outcome. Keep Enthusiasm high on the right and everything will fall into place.

You can see how much that appeals to DeSantis, who won the election in 2018 – a Democratic election by wave – by the skin of his teeth. He won despite the national trend and now has both the start and the fervor behind him. Mastriano lacks both a starter and the record to beat expectations in a statewide race, but he’s definitely doing his best to make sure the fervor is there.

As the election approached, many Republicans grew concerned about having Mastriano as their candidate. Was his candidacy going to discourage the voters they needed to get the turnout? Could he get more Democrats to vote? Could Mastriano being near the top of the ticket hurt Republicans in closer races lower?

The answer is unclear. But Mastriano, reflecting either cunning political tactics or indifference to them, will test the question.


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